Ecclesiology is the study of the church, specifically the Christian church. While many people may think of physical structures when they hear the word “church,” ecclesiology actually focuses on the study of the church as an entity, and on the study of people who belong to the church. This field of study is a topic of interest for some theologians and historians, especially those interested in Christianity, and it can play a role in the development of church doctrine. Researchers in this field can approach ecclesiology from a number of perspectives and directions.
One of the key roles of ecclesiology is to answer fundamental questions about the Christian church, such as what the function of the church is, how the church is defined in the Bible, who belongs to the church, what the Bible has to say about the administration of the church, and who the members of the church leadership are. Researchers in this field are also interested in a number of specific topics addressed in the Bible.
There are a number of interpretations of the Bible, as well as a diversity of branches of faith within Christianity. Part of the study of ecclesiology involves research into the many interpretations of Christianity, and study of various church doctrines and the approaches to Christianity seen in different branches of the church. Quakers, for example, place a heavy emphasis on direct communication with God and the lack of a formal, organized leadership, while Catholics have a complex hierarchy of Church officials and a very differing doctrinal approach to Christianity and the practice of Christian faith.
Ecclesiologists are also interested in the role of the church in society and history. Religious faith does not occur in a vacuum, and the church has had and continues to have a profound impact on history. This field of study may include analysis of periodic adjustments of church doctrine, approaches to people of different faiths, schisms within the Christian faith, and the study of the emergence of new sects within the church. The fundamental goal is to understand the church, whether one is studying evangelical Christian sects or the highly traditional Eastern Orthodox church.
Degrees in ecclesiology are offered at several colleges, universities, and seminaries around the world. Because researchers in this field grapple with a number of fundamental doctrinal questions and issues, it is not uncommon to see scholarly disagreement in this field, along with differing approaches to the source texts used in ecclesiology. As a whole, researchers add a great deal to the general body of knowledge and thought which informs the practice of Christianity all over the world.